- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

February is when many preschools have open houses, tours and registration for next fall. When visiting a school, keep the following questions and observations in mind:

• Does the school offer a balance of individual, small-group and large-group activities as well as free play and teacher-directed activities? Does it follow a particular educational philosophy?

• Is there a balance between quiet time and outdoor activities?

• Does the school encourage self-expression? Help children develop various motor skills? Does it expose children to literature, language arts, music, science and nature?

• Does the staff encourage and respond to children's natural interest in reading, writing and counting?

• Does the school provide snacks and meals that are nutritious?

• Are the teachers trained in early childhood education?

• Is the school accredited by the National Association for the Education for Young Children?

• Does the ratio of adults to children comply with state requirements?

• What is the rate of staff turnover?

• Does the staff welcome parents as visitors and participants, communicate regularly with them and respect their preferences and ideas?

• In their work with the children, are the teachers warm, interested and respectful of the students? Are the teachers engaged in activities with the children most of the time?

• How many days a week do children attend? Is there an all-day or extended-day program for working parents?

• How are discipline problems handled? How are toilet-training issues and accidents handled?

• Is there a safe and spacious outdoor area? Are children supervised when outdoors?

• What is the daily schedule like?

• How are children with special needs accommodated in the program?

• Do the children seem happy?

Sources: National Association for the Education for Young Children; "Preschool for Parents: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Preschool," by Diane Trister Dodge and Toni S. Bickart.

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